Posted in The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing, Tools

Make It Work for You

Thanks to Ladyheart on morguefile for this image.
COMPUTER_AND_MOUSEIf you’re only using your computer for word processing, internet and emailing, you’re missing out. Make that box help you stay organized and even keep you on task.
First, organize. If you haven’t already, create computer folders to classify your writing projects: nonfiction, fiction. Those folders might include subfolders: picture books, magazine pieces, etc. Break it down farther if needed (i.e. separate folders for each specific novel in your novel folder).
Did you type up your notes from a conference? Save them in a marketing folder on your computer. Store electronic copies of guidelines and theme lists there, too. Use a document to record books you’ve read, the publisher, and your thoughts.
Maintain a file for “manuscripts out.” Include a section for ones to be sent plus what each house or magazine has from you now. A file that lists each publisher and what you’ve sent is a helpful companion.
Use a spreadsheet or a money management program to keep track of writing expenses and income to make tax filing easier.
Back up these important files and folders on a regular basis. A USB drive is an inexpensive and quick way to do so. I also love using dropbox to make it easy to copy files from my desktop to my laptop and vice versa.
Second, keep on task. Use your computer as an electronic nagger. You can schedule “to do” items, including deadlines, and set up a program to remind you. Microsoft Outlook is probably the most common one, but there are many reminder software programs available if you don’t have one. They vary in cost from free to $60, with many in the $20-25 range. Investigate them on the Internet. Often you can download one and try it for free before buying.
Making our computers work for us takes self-discipline. We have to make ourselves: keep information up-to-date, back up folders and files, and schedule deadlines. However, the structure of being organized and staying on task can free us to get back to our first love–writing!
(I’ll confess this is a reprint of my one of my own articles. It’s been in the SCBWI Bulletin and on the Rx for Writers portion of the Institute of Children’s Literature site. But, I’m getting ready to move 1800 miles and knew it would be a quick way to get a post up.)

Posted in It's Not Just Books, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

Theme List Tactics

magazines.jpgHave you had trouble following through on magazine theme lists or editorial calendars? If you’re like me, the answer is a big YES!
I’d request theme lists and, sometimes when they arrived, they’d spark an idea or fit a story I’d already written. But, too often I left them to look at later. By the time “later” came, I had missed deadlines. I’d wail, “but I had an idea for that topic!” Sometimes in my stack, I found editorial calendars and theme lists that were months or even a year out of date.
One day I decided I’d had enough. There had to be a better way. So I gathered together all my theme lists and began organizing. Here’s what I devised:
For each magazine/take home paper, I record the name of the magazine, audience age, word length, topic deadlines, and a summary of the topics. I use a table in my word processor and have the computer sort the information by deadline date, but it could also be done on 3×5 cards or on separate pages of a notebook. Each magazine in my table has an entry for every deadline date on the theme list. This could mean one topic per entry or many topics. The final entry for each magazine is a reminder to order the next theme list. (And, I still file my theme lists–I might need more detail than what’s in my table.)
Here’s a selection from my original chart:
Theme list info *those marked with an asterisk buy all rights
When a deadline is past, I delete the entry. And, of course, when new theme lists arrive, I add the new information and resort the table.
I knew organizing would help me focus on topics with earlier deadlines, but what I didn’t realize, was that looking at all the topics together would have other benefits.
First off, it was easy to see which magazines were looking for similar material. Ah ha, maybe that story on will work for two or three or four editors.
Secondly, I now have a reminder to write for a new theme list. It’s nice to get new theme lists before half of the deadlines are passed!
But perhaps most important was how it freed me up for inspiration. For at least a year, I’d had a note hanging around my desk that said “a story on mailbox bashing.” I knew I wanted to write something on this form of vandalism, but each time I looked at the note, it got reshuffled into the stack. But the day I organized my theme lists, one of the topic suggestions combined with my mailbox idea and immediately I wrote the first draft of the story. The very same day another theme list topic jumped out and I knew I could use my daughter’s recent fear for a springboard for that story.
I still don’t always meet theme list deadlines with this method, but now that lists don’t just gather dust on my desk–or stay in some forgotten directory in my computer–my chances have improved tremendously.
Anyone else have methods they’d like to share?